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Title:
  Alice 19th vol 1 (of 7)

Distributor:  VIZ Media

Author:  Yuu Watase

Suggested Retail Price (SRP):  5.99

Number of Pages:  192

ISBN:  978-1591162155

Reviewed:  19th April 2008

Reviewer:  Rich (Webmaster)

 

They always say never judge a book by its cover.  I mean, look at Alice 19th, from the cover it looks like it's aimed at girls, and that it possibly involves supernatural elements, maybe even romance and drama...oh, hang on, it does...

The story follows Alice Seno, a Japanese schoolgirl with a crush on Kyo, one of her older sister Mayura's classmates.  However, she lacks the confidence to tell him how she feels and feels outshined by her attractive and intelligent sister, who looks certain to ask Kyo out.  Things take a fortuitous turn though when Alice rescues a white rabbit from being run over, and is in turn rescued from the busy road by Kyo!  Presented with the prefect opportunity to talk to Kyo and tell him how she feels, Alice once again can't find the words or the courage, but that evening her life changes forever.  The rabbit she rescued returns and turns into a strange rabbit girl called Nyozeka.  Not only can Nyozeka talk but she also informs Alice that she has the power to master the Lotis Words, a series of words of power that can affect the world around her.  The words can be used to bring happiness and clear the darkness from a person's soul, but in order for this power to be utilised Alice will not only need to learn them but also have the courage to say the right things.  However, until she masters them her powers can also manifest when she doesn't want them to, and a careless word spoken in anger could have a terrible effect.  Stuck in a situation where one argument could lead to a potentially irreversible effect on her friends and family, can Alice learn to control her abilities before it's too late?

Coming from the pen of Yuu Watase, the woman who brought us both Fushigi Yugi and Ceres the Celestial Legend, you may expect this to be a fantasy romance with lots of Eastern influences.  However, in a bit of a departure for her it is instead set in modern day Japan and if anything has a very Western feel.  Alice is a a decent lead character, she's good hearted but unlike many leads in shojo (girls) manga she is also pretty timid and unassuming.  Because of this you root for her from the word go, she's a much more realistic heroine than most which makes her a lot easier to identify with.  It's this sense of normality that sets Alice 19th apart,

unlike most manga where the hero takes the appearance of some random mythical creature completely in their stride, Alice does what most people would do when a talking rabbit thing turns up - she runs away!  There's a great vein of humour running through the story, but a bit of realism and some comedy is not all it has.

The artwork is great and the other characters are generally as good as Alice.  Even Kyo, who starts off as a bit of 'Mr Perfect' eye candy, is fleshed out as the story progresses, becoming more than just love interest for Alice.  It's also interesting to see that the story sets up a love triangle very early on, with both Alice and her sister Mayura fancying Kyo.  It's also interesting that although Mayura has everything going for her, Kyo seems to become closer to Alice.  Although love triangles are not exactly rare in shojo manga (in fact they seem to be pretty much compulsory...), it's unusual for it to be developed this much so early on.  However, there is good reason for it as their complicated relationship has a major bearing on the plot towards the end of the volume and sets up what looks like it could be the main focus of the series.

The story is quite well paced, with it being established early on that Alice is timid and tries to avoid conflict, which often leads to bullying from some of her classmates.  Her inability to articulate her feelings leads to several missed 

opportunities to tell Kyo that she likes him, and she ends up driving him closer to Mayura as well.  The arrival of a magical mascot character and her sudden graduation to magical girl status should give Alice the power to conquer her fears and gain courage, but this doesn't happen instantly.  In fact she's confused by her new powers, and still lacks the confidence to speak from the heart.  It's going to take time to build up her skills, and that's just how it should be.  It annoys me how sometimes characters seem to take to newfound magical powers as if they'd always used them, so it's nice to see that Alice has some learning and development to do yet.  As you probably guessed from the synopsis the story is a bit of a metaphor for having the courage to speak out and let your feelings be known.  Watase has successfully created an everyman character with realistic fears and issues, and this will strike a chord with the vast majority of readers.

But at the end of the day shojo is shojo.  There are things that you always seem to get in girl's manga and Alice 19th is no exception.  Handsome and noble love interest?  Tick.  Schoolgirl heroine who has a hidden magical power?  Tick.  Bizarre animal sidekick who explains these powers to the heroine?  Tick.  Love triangle?  Tick.  Even though Alice 19th puts interesting spins on some of these aspects, they're still all present and correct.  In a way this takes something away from it, it feels constrained in places by convention, when it's at its best when it does its own thing.  Alice 19th vol 1 is still a hugely enjoyable book though, the art is good and Watase knows how to handle visual humour.  The story is well paced and the characters strong and interesting, whilst some of the imagery is superb.  For me the highlight was when Alice enters the world created by a classmate's twisted heart, and her school becomes a colourless world bound by barbed wire.  The visual effect is striking and there is a great sense of tension as Alice fights to protect herself from becoming trapped.  It's at times like this when I found Alice 19th to be superb, and if it had been a bit braver at some other points then it would be getting a five star score rather than a four.  However, this is still one of the most enjoyable shojo titles I have read since Kare Kano, and comes highly recommended.

Extras 

 The usual ads are joined by an artist biography, two black and white images of Alice and Mayura (rather optimistically billed as an 'illustration gallery'), a couple of enjoyable random text columns from the author, and a glossary of Japanese sound effects.  I always find sound effects glossaries to be a bit pointless, it would be better to just translate the sound effects as and when they occur in my opinion.  However, whichever way you look at it this is a pretty average selection of extras.

Ratings

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